Friday, January 22, 2010

How Education?

What do you see when you see this bare-backed child playing on the street?

Most people would not even see the child – in a nation of over a billion people, you train yourself not to notice individuals unless you know them or want something from them - but some like my husband do. And when they do, they see poverty, they see the need for someone to do something for children like him. “Isn’t there some NGO that works with children like him”, he constantly asks. If he found one, he would probably make a donation to them.
And yet, when I see the boy, I do not see poverty. I see a boy playing creatively with what he has. I see a boy who is secure in the love of his family. I see a boy who is fed daily. I see a boy who has the occasional treat when his family saves up for it.
How do I know so much about the boy? Because I can see that while the boy is not at school, he is not at work either. And the fact that he is not working proves that his family can afford to feed him. He is probably the child of the people who dig trenches for laying down cables- they do not stay in one place long enough to enable their child to go to school, but they are not so badly off that they need their child to work.
He doesn’t need our charity. But he doesn’t have much of a future either. He is functionally illiterate and the best he can hope for is to get a job similar to the one that his father has. It is not much of a job, but unless he can learn to read, write and count, he would never be qualified to do much else.
A curriculum has been developed to enable giving him a basic education outside the formal system. But for that, he needs to stay in one place for a few months. I do wish people could devise a system by which he can transfer credits from one non-formal ‘school’ to another. Because without education, what future does he have?


dipali said...

Mobile Creches ( does wonderful work with the children of migrant construction workers, and has been doing so since 1969. I wonder how long the trench diggers stay in a particular area. Amazing how much you were able to deduce from some simple observations!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ dipali - Mobile Creches and Pratham are two NGOs I have tremendous respect for - they both take imparting non-formal education within individual constraints to an almost unthinkable level (MC with migrant children, Pratham primarily with child labourours). But neither would be able to do much for kids like this one who don't stay in any spot for more than a week or two.

dipali said...

Yes, that is the tragedy. Their lives are just too transient for any existing programmes.

Watery Tart said...

A week or two... wow.

It is an interesting class. I love learning about India, Natasha. The US is not free of trouble, but the migrant workers here tend to be agricultural or else more long term construction, so they move by season, not week.

The credits in the US also transfer, but suppose you are in a school in Michigan in September where your parents are harvesting blueberries, asparagus... whatever it is... (or roofing, building...) then in November when it freezes they move to Texas for some other crop (or same crop, new climate)--in Michigan social studies you started with the American Revolution. You get to Texas, and they are just starting... the American Revolution... so you get that TWICE and miss entirely the 'Pilgrims' that Texas started with and the 'Pioneers' that Michigan continued with...

Education for the mobile is SO hard--even if they read and can do basic math, they typically drop out.

I can't imagine how much worse it would be if the job locations were counted in weeks.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Tami, the education system is so stacked against people who most need it, isn't it? What is the point of being able to transfer credits, if you end up learning the same thing twice, and some things not at all. I moved schools twice myself, and luckily in both moves, I moved to schools where the same curriculum was being followed, so the move was uneventful.
But which school (or even NGO) will take a kid for a few weeks, and which parent would try to ensure their kids are admitted to a new place everytime they move? Seem to be no answers at all.

Al said...

I work with the impoverished and homeless here in Australia.
Sometimes I despair at how little I can achieve with the people I support.
Thank you for reminding me that no matter how bad it is here we are truly a lucky country in comparison.

Publish or Perish

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Al, unfortunately, the gap between those who have and those who do not is so huge, that there is always so much more to do than there are resources for doing it. But as long as people keep pegging away, someday, somehow, there would be greater equality. At least, I hope so.


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